Bird Cage Theatre, Tombstone, Arizona
The famous Bird Cage Theatre in Tombstone, Arizona, opened its doors on December 25, 1881, and for the next eight years would never close, operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Also called the Birdcage Opera House Saloon, the establishment featured a saloon, gambling parlor, theatre, and a brothel. In no time, the “theatre” gained a reputation as one of the wildest places in Tombstone, Arizona, so bad that the few self-respecting women in town refused to even walk near the place. The New York Times reported in 1882 that “the Bird Cage Theatre is the wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast.”
During the years that the theatre was open, the wicked little place witnessed several gun and knife fights that took some 26 lives and left 140 bullet holes in the ceilings, walls, and floors, many of which can still be seen today.
The theatre was called the “Bird Cage” because of its 14 crib-style compartments suspended from the ceiling. Here, the painted ladies would pull the drapes and “entertain” their customers at some of the most exorbitant prices ever heard of in the Old West.
In 1889, the Bird Cage closed its doors as a brothel and a saloon forever, left with all of its original contents. For the next three decades, it would sit languishing in the desert sun. Amazingly, during this time, its bar, furnishings, fixtures, and drapes were not sold. In 1934, the Hunley family reopened the Bird Cage Theatre as a tourist attraction, keeping all the original fixtures and furnishings in place. Today, the Bird Cage Theatre stands as a museum, still run by the Hunley family, providing a dusty and accurate picture of the 19th century.
The hand-painted stage, which once featured the likes of Eddy Foy, Lotta Crabtree, Lillie Langtry, Lola Montez, and Lillian Russell, still stands, along with the orchestra pit and its massive Grand Piano. The gambling parlor continues to feature the actual table where Doc Holliday once dealt faro, and lining the walls are photographs of the many who passed through its doors, as well as original paintings that hung in the establishment. The original bar still stands and on display is Tombstone’s famous horse-drawn hearse called the Black Moriah. The first “vehicle” to ever have curved glass, it is trimmed out with gold and reportedly worth nearly two million dollars. Ruffled-up beds and scattered clothes are authentic, as well as the original faded carpets, drapes, and furniture.
The front room in the famous Bird Cage Theatre, which now serves as a museum, continues to feature its original wooden bar, paintings, and many of its fixtures. The bar is backed by the typical long mirror, along with shelves for bottles and glassware. The cash register also sits here. Original paintings, prints, and posters can be seen in the mirror’s reflection. Lighting is provided by fixtures hanging from the ceiling.
The Bird Cage Theatre is Tombstone’s most authentic attraction, one of the Old West’s most famous landmarks, and a definite “must stop” while in Tombstone. It is also allegedly one of the most haunted places in Tombstone. But that’s another story. See it HERE!
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